David Kirkpatrick

March 27, 2008

Pre-Edison sound recording found

A recording of “Au Clair de la Lune” dating back to 1860 has been found. This recording predates Thomas Edison’s earliest recordings by an (even after the edit, still) astounding 28 17 years.

Meet the father of recorded sound, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville.

From the link:

For more than a century, since he captured the spoken words “Mary had a little lamb” on a sheet of tinfoil, Thomas Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound. But researchers say they have unearthed a recording of the human voice, made by a little-known Frenchman, that predates Edison’s invention of the phonograph by nearly two decades.

Isabelle Trocheris

The audio historian David Giovannoni with a recently discovered phonautogram that is among the earliest sound recordings.

Audio: 1860 recording: mm.DI = true; mm.LI = false; mm.AH = “The Phonautograph Recording from 1860 of ‘Au Clair de la Lune'”; mm.AS = “”; mm.AD = “10”; mm.AU = “http://graphics8.nytimes.com/audiosrc/arts/1860v2.mp3″; mm.IU = “”; writePlayer();

 The Phonautograph Recording from 1860 of ‘Au Clair de la Lune’ (mp3)

var so = new SWFObject(“http://www.nytimes.com/packages/flash/multimedia/swfs/multiloader.swf”, “p97536″, “100%”, “25”, “8”, “#FFFFFF”); so.addVariable(“mp3″,”http://graphics8.nytimes.com/audiosrc/arts/1860v2.mp3″) so.addVariable(“duration”,”10″) so.addVariable(“contentPath”,”http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/flash/multimedia/INLINE_PLAYER/NYTInline.swf”) so.addParam(“allowScriptAccess”, “always”); so.write(“p97536″);1931: mm.DI = true; mm.LI = false; mm.AH = “An Audio Excerpt from a 1931 Recording of the Same Song”; mm.AS = “”; mm.AD = “26”; mm.AU = “http://graphics8.nytimes.com/audiosrc/arts/1931.mp3″; mm.IU = “”; writePlayer();

 An Audio Excerpt from a 1931 Recording of the Same Song (mp3)

var so = new SWFObject(“http://www.nytimes.com/packages/flash/multimedia/swfs/multiloader.swf”, “p242125″, “100%”, “25”, “8”, “#FFFFFF”); so.addVariable(“mp3″,”http://graphics8.nytimes.com/audiosrc/arts/1931.mp3″) so.addVariable(“duration”,”26″) so.addVariable(“contentPath”,”http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/flash/multimedia/INLINE_PLAYER/NYTInline.swf”) so.addParam(“allowScriptAccess”, “always”); so.write(“p242125″);

The 19th-century phonautograph, which captured sounds visually but did not play them back, has yielded a discovery with help from modern technology.

The 10-second recording of a singer crooning the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” was discovered earlier this month in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

“This is a historic find, the earliest known recording of sound,” said Samuel Brylawski, the former head of the recorded-sound division of the Library of Congress, who is not affiliated with the research group but who was familiar with its findings. The audio excavation could give a new primacy to the phonautograph, once considered a curio, and its inventor, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and tinkerer who went to his grave convinced that credit for his breakthroughs had been improperly bestowed on Edison.

Scott’s device had a barrel-shaped horn attached to a stylus, which etched sound waves onto sheets of paper blackened by smoke from an oil lamp. The recordings were not intended for listening; the idea of audio playback had not been conceived. Rather, Scott sought to create a paper record of human speech that could later be deciphered.

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